Biden advisers and surrogates have framed the endorsements as clear markers of the differences between Sanders and Biden, with Ocasio-Cortez representing the left flank of the party and Finkenauer representing the mainstream — she knocked off a Republican incumbent in a Northeast Iowa-based swing district, the kind of place that the Democratic nominee will need to defeat Donald Trump in November.

“Ms. Ocasio-Cortez represents a district in New York, so she’s probably reflective of the values of the people in that district in New York,” said Rep. Ami Bera of California, who is among the surrogates traveling through the state on Biden’s behalf this week. “I’d say Abby Finkenauer represents a district in Iowa and probably is reflective of the values of the people in that district. If you’d ask me which endorsement I’d want, I’d want the endorsement of a Gov. Vilsack or an Abby Finkenauer, in the state that I’m running in.”

To that end, Biden snagged several endorsements that went to Sanders in 2016, including Waterloo pastor and African American leader Frantz Whitfield, former AARP Iowa director Bruce Koeppl, Sioux City state Rep. Tim Kacena and Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson.

If his recently amped up criticism of Biden is any indication, Sanders likewise views the former vice president as a threat. With 26 days to go until the caucuses, the race has tightened: a recent CBS/YouGov poll showed Sanders, Biden and Pete Buttigieg in a three-way tie for first place, with Warren not far behind.

Yet there’s been little pushback to the Sanders attacks from the Biden campaign, or even his top surrogates. One reason is that, since entering the race last April, Biden has sought to position himself as the antidote to Trump and not get sucked into personal exchanges.

But advisers also say there’s little to gain by attacking Sanders, given that at least a portion of their constituencies overlap. And so far in the primary, there’s evidence that negative hits on rivals aren’t working — candidates who’ve hit Biden the hardest, for example, have gone nowhere. Biden’s team believes that unlike 2016, the 2020 primary is defined by who can beat Trump, and poll after poll shows Democrats believe Biden is best suited to do that.

“I don’t think anybody on the Biden campaign is naive about Bernie’s very real chance of winning the nomination,” said Liz Allen, a former aide to both Biden and Barack Obama, and a Biden campaign surrogate. “I just think it’s doubling down on their strategy, which is to make the case about Donald Trump.”

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